STAR TREK: DISCOVERY Review: 2.01 “Brother”

A strong tonal reboot for, hopefully, a strong second season.

Ever since the USS Enterprise showed up adrift in the final moments of Star Trek: Discovery’s first season, the second season seemed like it would hinge upon how it integrated the classic starship into the storyline. The first season’s Klingon-war arc was all wrapped up, with a bonus restatement of Federation values, and the only sign of future storylines lay in the starship whose design hasn’t changed since the 1960s (and hasn’t needed to).

As it turns out: the Enterprise doesn’t really play into second season premiere “Brother” much at all. Most of the era-clash is pushed out of the way early on: Enterprise crewmembers comment on how fancy Discovery looks in comparison to their own ship (which while more modern than the TOS incarnation, is at least more utilitarian than Discovery), while incoming Captain Pike counters that at least Enterprise has “the new uniforms.” Those uniforms - old designs, fed through new textures, much like those in the 2009 reboot film - even get more or less tossed aside by the end of the episode. The Enterprise herself remains adrift, essentially out of the picture - for now.

Captain Pike himself (Anson Mount, more silver-foxy than when Razzie-nominated opposite Britney Spears in Crossroads, slightly less silver-foxy than big-screen Pike Bruce Greenwood, and a shoo-in to lead any potential Mitt Romney biopic) looks to be a fantastic addition to the show. Dashing, experienced, and confident without being an asshole about it, he’s a charismatic and empathetic leader, learning names quickly, never leaving people behind, and espousing a desire to “have a little fun” in their mission. In other words, he’s the anti-Lorca, and emblematic of the show's newfound energy. It’s also the first time we get to see Pike actually in action since The Original Series’ original unaired pilot, so that’s exciting.

The A-plot of the episode, and the season arc it sets up, is a good old-fashioned Star Trek science mystery. Seven energy signals have appeared across the galaxy, and Pike’s mission is to get to the one remaining energy burst and investigate it. Tracking the coordinates to an asteroid field, the crew discovers strange gravitational fluctuations and a crashed Starfleet vessel. After a thrilling and very well-executed spaceflight sequence, Pike and series lead Michael Burnham meet survivor Denise “Jet” Reno (a wonderfully dry Tig Notaro, who I pray becomes a regular) and set about extracting her and the patients in her makeshift sickbay, triggering another thrilling and well-executed setpiece. 

The mystery truly kicks off when Burnham gets trapped on the asteroid, having a vision of a red, angelic, crucially out-of-focus figure. We’ll have to wait to learn the significance of that, but Burnham’s transporter extraction without the rock sample she was carrying gives another clue to the mystery. Science pals Tilly (Mary Wiseman, more assured this season, like her character) and Stamets (who starts the ep about to leave the ship for a teaching position, but ends it apparently back in the game) set about capturing an asteroid to study it. Captain Pike joins the crew as its temporary captain, even donning a Discovery uniform, and we’re off into next week - to be directed by Jonathan Frakes!

As plotty as “Brother” is, it pays significant attention to an emotional, family-centric plotline it’s setting up between Burnham and her estranged brother Spock. Spock doesn’t appear in the episode outside of flashback, but the reminder of his continued existence weighs heavy on Burnham, whose relationship with her adopted brother is fraught at best. Through flashback, we learn of the childhood friction between the two, and the admirable intentions of their parents - Sarek’s wish to have Spock teach Michael the ways of Vulcan, and for her to teach him empathy, is a noble but possibly overambitious goal. Whatever the cause, Spock’s absent thanks to taking leave to deal with “nightmares” - nightmares of the same vision experienced by his sister. Michael's journey towards reconnecting with Spock is likely to be both the emotional heart of the season and a crucial part of the A-plot, and as someone with estranged family members myself, I have high hopes. 

Next week, we’ll likely meet Spock himself. Further into the season, we’ll reconnect with Captain Georgiou, now a member of black-ops agency Section 31 (and spinning off into her very own show); see what Klingons L’Rell and Ash Tyler are up to; and investigate this “Red Angel” and the energy bursts that appear to have heralded it. And we’ll have a little fun along the way. This premiere was a vast tonal about-face for Discovery, switching tack from season one’s dark, war-driven, mirror-universe-inflected tone to one altogether lighter. That’s the kind of Star Trek I, for one, want right now, and more than anything, it makes me happy for this show’s characters - characters I’ve realised I’ve grown to love. And I mean, the Georgiou show will surely fill whatever darkness quota audiences could want.

At the risk of sounding unhinged: I just really fucking love Star Trek, you guys, and I’m thrilled that after an initial season of soul-searching, Star Trek: Discovery appears to be getting its sea legs, so to speak. I need this.

Odd observations:

  • Was that a VISOR on Discovery’s transporter operator?
  • “Think of all the syllables that gave their lives,” says Pike, amusingly implying that technobabble is unusually endemic among the Enterprise crew.
  • It seems like we’re going to get a little more sense of the supporting characters’ personalities. There are some nice moments on the Discovery bridge, for example, and boy, I hope that one alien officer gets over their cold.
  • “You’re going to become a magnificent captain because you do everything out of love” is the kind of attitude we need more of.
  • Speaking of: seems pretty likely Stamets is going to get a reunion with his deceased beloved. He deserves to, to be honest.
  • Tilly’s best line, to Pike: “You have really beautiful nail beds.” Yes he does, Ensign. Yes he does.